Book addresses CIO job scope, gives advice

This is the first in an occasional series of book reviews that relate to federal information technology issues.

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Information Management: A Government Executive's Guide, a book recently published by PricewaterhouseCoopers, is a good reference for new and experienced chief information officers or any other government executive facing the information technology challenges of the new millennium. It offers useful insights and solutions from government and private-industry information leaders.

Authors Ken Devansky, Gard Little, Therese Morin and Craig Petrun address topics covering the scope of an information executive's job, and the advice they provide is comprehensive and sound. The topics include managing government information; building an appropriate information organization; keeping up with technology; managing investments; measuring and communicating success; and the future of government information leadership.

The book also directs the reader to several helpful publications from the General Accounting Office, the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration.

The authors bring up many important points in regard to the roles of CIOs in government agencies. They point out that the chief executive officer plays a critical role in information strategy and management and is supported by the CIO and every other senior executive. An information "czar" with absolute power simply wouldn't work.

The most critical work of the CIO is coaching and advising other team members on how to fulfill their leadership roles, the book says. To do this effectively, CIOs must develop excellent relationships with the rest of the team and, in many cases, with their customers and stakeholders.

A successful CIO must have both a business and a technical background: the business background to speak the language and understand the needs and business goals; and the technical background to be able to lead the technical staff and understand how information technology can be applied to advance business goals and to judge investment options.

The book notes that today's technology is creating fundamental transformations in the way organizations do their work. CIOs must establish IT architectures that fit their agencies' business needs. They also must deal with the major challenge of retaining staff with appropriate skills. Changing technologies, changing missions, spending reductions and staff turnovers also must be addressed to ensure that agencies' information skills do not become obsolete.

In addition, CIOs should apply investment management processes to new and old information systems, understand the results their customers want and be able to discuss performance in terms of those results.The authors state that government CIOs should recognize the magnitude and importance of their work. The very viability of government institutions depends on their decisions about information and technology and on the strength of their leadership in implementing those decisions.

Particularly insightful is the book's discussion on communication planning, which stresses that CIOs should communicate with others in terms of the benefits of IT, not in terms of the technology itself. Likewise, the chapter on the future of government information leadership presents four scenarios for the structure of information leadership and raises issues about the future importance of knowledge management and data security.

Noticeably absent from the book is the recognition of past reports and legislation that helped bring to the forefront the topics it covers. For example, it does not cite the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, the Government Performance and Results Act, the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act, or OMB or White House guidance, although the book does cite GAO documents that mention these laws and documents. In addition, it does not mention the Industry Advisory Council/Chief Information Officer Task Force Report of July 1996, which gave extensive treatment to the issues facing CIOs and identified critical factors for CIOs' success. One would expect these references in a "government executive's guide."

-- DiPentima is president of SRA Federal Systems and former deputy commissioner for systems at the Social Security Administration.

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